Conway & Pagenaud Fastest At Belle Isle
Conway also believes the track surface has improved from last year when he dominated the Saturday race driving a Honda owned by Dale Coyne.
“To start with, I thought there was more grip than there was last year,” Conway said. “I felt pretty hooked up to start with. Just some curve changes down in three and seven were really the biggest things. They opened up seven a lot more now. The entry speed is a lot quicker than last year. Maybe a bit of time gained there.
“It’s a real challenge around this place. Every lap, as I said, gets your attention. It’s very bumpy, very challenging. There are some corners that have got a lot of grip. Sometimes you go into corners and you’re like, Oh, am I going to make it? You come through it.
“It’s always like that around here really. Just because of the bumps, quick change of direction, it’s a lot of fun.”
Both Pagenaud and Conway are attempting to win on this street course for the second year in a row after last year’s successful doubleheader debut for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
And the driver that does the best is the one who is able to do the “slide job.”
“Going from tarmac to concrete, the car just slides,” Pagenaud said. “If you don’t let it slide, if you don’t trust it, you can’t produce lap times. I think that’s what Mike Conway does really well. He seems really good at running the car really, really loose on entry. That’s what I heard, actually.
“It’s a great track. I love it. The Penske organization always does a great job. I think it’s becoming an interesting track in terms of racing, not just qualifying, but there’s some good places for passing, turn three, turn seven.
“It’s very enjoyable. It’s breathtaking after being two weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You really get your handful. I have to say, it’s certainly hard work. It’s a lot of fun. You just push yourself as hard as you can and try to do a good lap.”
After a month at the ultra-smooth Indianapolis Motor Speedway it’s a bumpy ride on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit.
“Here, it’s quite bumpy due to weather,” Pagenaud explained. “Every year it’s the same: you come here, the first two practices it feels really bumpy.
“It’s actually really fun. You have to turn the car on entry. It’s a bit like downhill skiing. It’s quite enjoyable. It’s like dancing with the car. I don’t know if Helio can do that actually.
“But, yeah, it feels like it’s bumpier every year. I think it’s just the nature of the schedule for us.”
Pagenaud scored his first career IndyCar Series victory in last year’s second race of the Detroit doubleheader and it was the start of something big for the driver from France who has gone on to become one of the star drivers in the series.
“For sure, it was certainly a big moment, a big day for us,” Pagenaud said. “Since that day we’ve been competitive almost everywhere. The team just found what the car needed to be competitive on street circuits and road courses as well.
“Since then it’s been a lot easier for me to be on top of my game because the car hasn’t changed much and I’ve just improved my driving every time I go to another track. I think this is actually a place where last year we really switched gears. It’s been enjoyable since then, for sure.”